Would deposit law clean up Minnesota?

One of the most enjoyable aspects of being on a newspaper's editorial board is that we occasionally meet with young, idealistic people who want to make the world a better place.

We had one of those meetings on Monday with two Bethel College graduates, Sarah Heuer and Ben Olson, who are leading the effort to create a 10-cent bottle-and-can deposit law in Minnesota. They aren't employed by any environmental advocacy group — she teaches at a community college, and he is a graduate student at the University of Minnesota-Duluth — yet their efforts have led to the introduction of bills in both the Minnesota House and Senate. Rep. Tina Liebling, a Rochester DFLer, has signed on as a co-author of the House bill.

It's an intriguing idea. The current recycling rate for plastic bottles, glass beverage containers and aluminum cans in Minnesota is about 35 percent. The rest are incinerated or buried in landfills — or end up in our rivers and ditches.

Eleven states use a deposit system, including our neighor to the south. Since 1979, Iowans have paid a 5-cent deposit on every carbonated beverage and alcoholic beverage sold in glass, plastic and aluminum containers. That deposit is paid back when the empties are redeemed, and as a result, the recycling rate in Iowa has reached 93 percent. Put another way, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources says 82,000 tons of beverage containers are recycled each year — enough to fill 784 railroad box cars.

But would this idea fly in Minnesota? Olson admits that bottlers aren't keen on the idea, but he says their claims are often contradictory. "The beverage industry says  a deposit law would hurt them and would eliminate some jobs, but then they turn around and say they'll need to hire more people to deal with the increase in recycling."


When asked if the deposit would hurt beverage sales, Heuer said, "There's no data indicating a negative impact on sales trends."

For now, this idea is a long shot. Heuer and Olson have no illusions that their bill will pass this session, but they're optimistic that it can gain traction during the next year or two.

We hope they're right, because this idea warrants some serious consideration. Most of us have probably been guilty of tossing an empty or two into the garbage can at a park or gas station, simply because there was no recycling bin nearby. A deposit law would make us think twice before doing that.

We would, however, suggest that Minnesota should follow Iowa's lead with a 5-cent deposit, rather than a dime. If the cost of a case of bottled water, beer or soda suddenly jumps by $2.40, people might think think twice, even if they can get their money back later.

Hmm. That gives us an idea.

Rochester's annual "Litter Bit Better" campaign is making cigarette butts a focal point of its efforts this year, trying to increase awareness that the world isn't a giant ashtray. Perhaps a 5-cent deposit on cigarette butts could help clean up our streets.

This would increase the up-front cost by $1 per pack, which would probably further reduce Minnesota's smoking rate. And, if smokers don't want to pick up their "empties," we have no doubt that someone else would. Some locations in our fair city would be real moneymakers for anyone with a plastic bag and a willingness to get their hands dirty.

Now, if only we could think up a secondary use for cigarette butts....


We'll work on it.

What To Read Next
Get Local